Italy: Juventus took a significant step towards a second successive Serie A title with a 1-0 win over AC Milan that simultaneously upset their opponents` hopes of qualifying for next season`s Champions League.
Arturo Vidal scored the only goal of a desperately underwhelming encounter, the Chile international converting from the penalty spot after Kwadwo Asamoah had been felled in the area by Marco Amelia shortly after half-time.
With Juventus in possession of an eight-point cushion at the summit of Serie A, the game was arguably of great importance to Milan, particularly with fourth-placed Fiorentina having defeated Torino earlier in the day to draw to within a point of the Rossoneri. Unsurprising, then, that the visitors began the brighter of the two, with Robinho and Stephan El Shaarawy both getting shots away inside the opening five minutes.
However, it was Juve who went closest to an early breakthrough, with Christian Abbiati doing wonderfully well to change direction in time to scramble a deflected Andrea Pirlo free kick away for a corner.
Unfortunately for Abbiati, that was to be his last contribution of note before being forced off through injury with less than 15 minutes on the clock. He was replaced by Amelia, whose first task was to deal with another Pirlo free kick, which he did with the minimum of fuss.
The Rossoneri reserve goalkeeper had little to do for the remainder of the half, though, with Mirko Vucinic failing dismally to hit the target with a free header from yet another Pirlo set-piece.
In truth, Milan looked the slightly more likely scorers during a cagey opening half. Massimiliano Allegri’s men were certainly the more composed side in possession, while Robinho and the recalled Stephan El Shaarawy buzzed about Giampaolo Pazzini with real intent.
Their hopes of retaining control of the middle of the park were hit by the injury-enforced withdrawal of Massimo Ambrosini during the interval. Their hopes of winning the game, meanwhile, were hit by the concession of a penalty just 10 minutes later.
Ignazio Abate and Amelia were both caught out by a seemingly innocuous diagonal in behind the Milan defence. Abate left it for his goalkeeper, who never had any chance of getting there in time and was powerless to prevent himself from clattering into the alert Asamoah, who had stolen in behind a hesitant Abate before cleverly nicking the ball past Amelia.
Vidal buried the resulting spot-kick, firing high to Amelia`s left to change the entire complexion of the game. Indeed, Milan suddenly looked completely devoid of any belief and the toothless visitors did not even go close to forcing an equaliser in the remaining 35 minutes, thus allowing Juve to coast to a victory that leaves them requiring just four more points to clinch the title.
It is not pleasant at all that I had to approach the court but there was no option left for me. I am glad that I have been proved right and it has lifted my morale ahead for the Asian Games.
Manoj Kumar, Indian boxer